Desktop Linux, Now on OSDL’s To-Do List

Open Source Development Lab (OSDL), the Beaverton, Ore.-based organization dedicated to advancing Linux, is spreading its plans to roll a desktop specification it hopes will unify the operating system’s client-side profiles and help put to rest its image as a difficult-to-install platform.

“We hope to put the first spec together by midyear,” Stuart Cohen,
chief executive officer of OSDL told

That spec will come via the Desktop Linux Working Group, a committee chartered by OSDL with participation from HP, Novell, IBM, Red Hat, Sun Microsystems, and Intel, among others.

Notably, the group won’t define a one-side-fits-all desktop Linux. Rather, it will specify six separate “profiles,” or desktop operating system configurations, for different levels of users. OSDL said the profiles will target personal-desktop users, “knowledge workers,” client/server set-ups, point-of-sale, help desk, and call-center installations.

OSDL itself won’t roll any code. However, once the spec is released, Linux purveyors such as Red Hat, SuSE (Novell), Miracle Linux, Turbolinux, and MontVista, among others, will be able to tailor their individual distributions to conform to the profiles. The expected result would be more much more consistency among commercial Linux products.

“The exchange of this kind of information from those players will build significant momentum for Linux,” said Rick Lehrbaum, editor-in-chief of the developer site “If you can standardize the desktop, you can make it easier for companies to support consistent configurations.”

While current implementations aren’t much different on a global basis, subtle variations often cause users heartache. “Linux is Linux is Linux, its supporters will say, but there are different configurations that make it more of a challenge than it needs to be,” explained Lehrbaum.

“Going between distributions is [currently] tricky. That’s an area where, if there was more consistency, it would be easier.”

Of equal significance as a roadblock to Linux acceptance, points out Lehrbaum, “is there are not enough companies supporting it with their applications.”

Acceptance is growing for Linux office suites OpenOffice and StarOffice. But Lehrbaum points out that important apps such as Microsoft Office and Lotus Notes remain Windows-only.

That’s one reason Linux evangelists are talking up two end-arounds in the form of the CrossOver Office package from Codeweavers and the open-source WINE Project. ( The software can be installed on Linux machines. The former acts takes Windows programs and enables them to run under Linux. The latter is an open-source implementation of Windows on top of Unix.

More directly, a successfully Linux desktop spec might spur some spillover from the Windows world. “I think Microsoft is a smart company and if Linux continues to accelerate they will make some of their apps run on Linux,” said OSDL CEO Cohen.

The OSDL working group effort may potential get support from a separate group called the Desktop Linux Consortium.
( That group, while not directly involved in the OSDL desktop work, last November kicked off a concerted effort to promote the operating system.

“We’ve set up the consortium as an evangelizing organization, and I think it’s been very successful so far,”
said Jon Parchall, chief operating officer of consortium member Codeweavers.

Despite the appearance of unity surrounding desktop Linux, one glaring absentee from the OSDL desktop effort is The company, which has garnered widespread public attention, bills itself as the “affordable choice” and sells its LindowsOS 4.5 for $59.95. founder and chief executive officer Michael Robertson had not returned a call at posting time.

Robertson is sometimes seen by analysts as preferring to go his own way and focus on evangelizing for his own company in the marketplace.

For his part, OSDL’s Cohen says he would welcome his participation. “I don’t think there’s any reason they haven’t called us and there’s no reason we haven’t called them. It’s not for lack of interest. We would be happy to have them involved.”

Lehrbaum sees the participation of Lindows as a non-issue. “They’ve done a remarkable job getting headlines,” he said. However, Lehrbaum believes the most important companies on the desktop are Red Hat and SuSE.

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